By Kang Hyun-kyung
South Korea is working on a set of measures to bolster its partnership with China, the world’s second largest economy, a high-ranking official from the foreign ministry said Wednesday.
The reaction followed the growing concern that Seoul was less prepared for the rise of China, its number one trade partner since 2003.
The official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told reporters on condition of anonymity that the ministry was planning to hire more staffers dealing with China affairs and send more high-level diplomats to its embassy there.
President Lee Myung-bak picked Chun Yung-woo, former second vice foreign minister, as the senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security because Chun has a strong network with Chinese officials, he said.
The official presented an optimistic view about the prospects of Seoul-Beijing relations when Xi Jinping, China’s vice president, succeeds President Hu Jintao in 2013.
This week Xi was named vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission at the Communist Party’s Central Committee, which is a council of about 200 senior officials.
The promotion was widely seen as a boost to his possible succession to President Hu Jintao when Hu retires.
“As I know, Xi has clear understanding of the importance of having good relations with South Korea. He knows a lot about the South mainly through Korean firms there. Having said that, I have high expectations of an improvement in the bilateral relations,” the official said.
People-to-people exchange has increased over the years as an increasing number of Korean students have gone to China to study.
Chinese students take the lion’s share of foreign students here as well.
Despite the significance in trade and cultural exchanges, North Korea has been a diplomatic thorn in South Korea’s relations with China, the former’s closest ally.
As China’s influence in the global economy grows after it replaced Japan as the world’s number two economy, foreign policy experts here said the foreign ministry should map out a strategy to better deal with the situation.